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Full text of "Life and character of Hon. Wm. Gaston : a eulogy, delivered by appointment of the officers and members of the Fayetteville Bar, on Monday, November 11, 1844"

LIFE Ml CM1CTER OF HON. f M. GASTON. 



A EULOGY. 



DELIVERED BY APPOISTMEXT OF 



THE OFFICERS AKD ME1BERS 



OF 



© w *lfo nday, *Vo v ember 11, 18 4 4. 



BY HOW. R03EHT STRANGE, LL. D. 



PUBLISHED BY REQUEST. 

O*. ' • » 

.> * 

FAYETTE VILLE : 
PRINTED BY EDWARD J. HALE. 

1844. 



ii.VitfS 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil 



http://archive.org/details/lifecharacterofhOOstrnga 



FAYETTEVILLE, November 15, 1844. 

At a meeting of the Officers and Members of the Fayette ville Ear, 
Judge Bailey presiding, 

Un motion by Mr. Toomer, 

?ilr. Wright, Mr. Reid, and Mr. W. Winslow, were appointed a Com- 
mittee to convey to the Hon. Robert Strange the acknowledgments of 
his professional brethren for the able and eloquent Eulogy of the Life and 
Character of William Gaston, delivered by him, at their request, and to 
-solicit a copy of the siime for publication. 



4 



E U L O G Y. 



*»© 



I come to praise, and not to bury. The latter 
hath been long since done — and corruption hath al- 
ready asserted her irresistible claim. To die is the 
lot of all men, and no one is denied his share in the 
inheritance of the grave. But to be praised alter 
death is the property of a few, and a price must be 
paid to obtain an interest therein. Men give not 
praises for nothing, either to the living or to the dead. 
The consciousness of every man that he hath but a 
short time to live, makes him covetous of a place in 
the memory of his fellow men, that he may continue 
to live there, when he shall have ceased to be among 
them in the activity of life. Among the ancient E- 
gyptians, men sought by the skill of the embalmer to 
perpetuate their personal identity, after the immortal 
spirit had ceased to animate the body. To the same 
end, other clumsy expedients have been from time to 
time adopted; and some with one price, and some 
with another, have endeavored to ransom themselves 
from the oblivion belonging to the grave. But Pos- 
terity, if not very liberal in her dealings with the de- 
parted, is yet very just, and will surely give to every 
one exactly what he has purchased. If he have laid 
out his money in the drugs and implements of the 



6 

embalmer s art, Posterity will look with wonder on 

relics of mortality, that have contrived to preserve 
for themselves some general resemblance to living 
humanity, after ages have rolled over them. It will 
desire to read the Hieroglyphic ks written on the cere- 
cloth, and to decypher the name of this juggler with 
Death. If he have erected a Pyramid, to be for his 
body an eternal home, Posterity will give to that 
Pyramid the tribute of its wondering gaze, and will 
perform pilgrimages to examine, and write volumes 
to explain, its size, its construction, the date of its be- 
ginning, and its purpose. But the Pyramid will 
probably, like the shell of the tortoise, be more es- 
teemed than its contents. If his deeds of beneficence 
have left something behind of which Posterity is daily 
taking benefit — Posterity will remember, as she takes 
the benefit, the name of her benefactor. And if his 
life have been a volume whose illuminated pages fur- 
nish bright examples for mankind, "every day i' the 
hour Posterity will turn the leaf to read it," and think 
with gratitude of the gifted author. And such a 
volume was the life of William Gaston! It is be- 
cause we have read this volume, that we, my breth- 
ren, among the first and tiniest waves that shall roll 

7 O 

in the ever moving Ocean of Posterity, are permitted 
to murmur out our gratitude, and lift up our heads in 
joy, that he once lived; and to sink them in sorrow, 
that he is no more. 

Whatever restraints delicacv may impose among 
the living, no one is so stern as to condemn the child 

O 7 • 

who lavishes upon the remains of a deceased parent 



every mark of kindness, and commemorates with ar- 
dent gratitude bis many virtues. And who but a few 
short months since was the acknowledged Father of 
the North Carolina Bar? The memory of each of 
us answers the question. And I say with honest 
pride, and a gush of correspondent affection, that a- 
mong no class of men are the ties of professional re- 
lationship more warmly felt, or more scrupulously 
acted upon, than among the Bar of North Carolina. 
It is a worthy and kind hearted family, in which a 
lively common sympathy prevails — where the most 
candid acknowledgments of superior worth are ever 
accorded — where right is most heartily commended, 
and compassion is ever alive for error — where the 
hand of kindness is extended to raise up the fallen, 
and the mantle of Charity unostentatiously cast over 
the faults of frailty. Can such a family suffer the 
loss of such a bead without dropping a tear? or with- 
hold from his memory the tribute of its praises? 
That portion of it constituting the Officers and Mem- 
bers of the Fayetteville Bar, in a kindness to me that 
I have so often gratefully experienced, hath selected 
me, on the present melancholy occasion, as the organ 
of its utterance — and I esteem it not a task, but a 
holy and filial duty. 

It was mv fate to be among the few of Judge Gas- 
ton's professional family who had an opportunity of 
seeing him near the moment of his decease, and 
deeply did I feel, while gazing on his yet warm re- 
mains, the force of the inspired exclamation, ''Lord, 
what is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the 



8 

sen oF rutin, that thou visitest him?" If personal con- 
sequence was associated with the name of any man 
iu North Carolina, it was wdth that of William Gas- 
ton. If any might call with "voice potential" upon 
all human assistance to procrastinate the day of doom, 
it was William Gaston. If any would be so missed 
from the organization of society as to suspend by his 
absence even for a moment its action, it was William 
Gaston. If nature — kind nature — might be supposed 
at all to sympathize in his last great agony with any 
man, it was with William Gaston. If any great moral 
convulsion might be looked for in connexion with his 
Death, it was with that of William Gaston. But there 
he lay more powerless than the new born infant — 
and those lips whose accents had enchained Senates 
and added years to the existence of many other men, 
were breathlessly mute. I found him alone with the 
ministers of the grave, who were silently decking him 
in that simple apparel in which he is taking the long 
sleep of Death. Earthly hope had deserted him, and 
with her those who had assisted him in his brief strife 
with Death — and yet I knew by the hum of human 
voices in the distance, that society was as busy with 
the hopes — the desires — the passions — the pleasures 
— the distresses of this earthly^ existence, — as though 
William Gaston lived. And the moonbeam that 
had lighted my path, and the night wind that, strug- 
gling in at the casement, was agitating the thin gray 
locks upon his forehead, told me that nature was in 
quiet. And the stillness amid which was heard even 
the ticking of a watch, and the melancholy compo- 



9 

sure with which my companions looked upon the 
scene, assured me that no great moral convulsion 
was impending — and I was oppressed with a sense 
of this world's nothingness — and full of thoughts too 
deep for utterance. That morning I had seen him 
enter the capitol of the State, (not in his wonted 
health to he sure, hut still he was himself) — the in- 
structive, the cheerful companion — the just, the be- 
nevolent man — the wise, the learned Judge — the great 
moral machine performing all its functions in the same 
beautiful order and propriety that had been its wont 
— his memory as rich as ever in its judicial treasures, 
and his judgment dealing them out with its accus- 
tomed accuracv. And now, to see where all this had' 
so lately been — dead, blank clay! It was enough to 
bewilder reason, and make her reject the evidence of 
the senses. But reason had long since known that 
"to this complexion all must come at last," and yet 
the sad reality had well nigh "frighted her from her 
propriety." 

Those to whom Judge Gaston was bound by the 
ties of blood, were far, far away, — cherishing for him 
hopes of many more years of life and honor and use- 
fulness, and confidently believing him as happy and 
prosperous and well, as in their own fond hearts they 
wished him. Doubtless thev think, now that it is 
past, that there would have been a melancholy satis- 
faction in performing for him many nameless acts of 
tenderness, and in giving and receiving tokens of af- 

' O CD O 

fection, which the approach of Death would have 
suggested. But such regrets are probably founded 



30 

on a misconception of the true state of the case. 
Judge Gaston was one of those to whom the midnight 
cry, "Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to 
meet him," would bring neither surprise nor terror;— 
but there is reason to think, that although his mind 
was deeply embued with a sense of the uncertainty of 
human life, and was even impressed with a conviction 
that his own remaining span was probably short, yet 
that but a little while preceding his dissolution, the 
assurances of his physician as to the nature of his dis- 
ease had freed him from all immediate apprehension, 
and that the death strug-ale came uoon him almost as 
unlocked for as upon the late lamented victims on 
'board the Princeton. For he was conversing with 
his wonted cheerfulness with his friend the Chief Jus- 
tice, (who sincerely loved him, and most affection- 
ately waited upon his last hours,) when a change be- 
ing seen in his countenance, he was asked "if he would 
take something to refresh him." "I will take any 
thing," was his expressive reply — and in another mo- 
ment lie was still forever. He had then none of 
those tedious and hard wrestlings with the great ene- 
my, in which the encouragements, the counsel, the 
consolations, of friends, are so eminently needed. But 
so far as these could have served he had them — not 
from kindred after the Hesh it is true — but from those 
who had borne with him the heat and burden of life's 
weary day, and amid the labors and struggles of that 
day had become well acquainted with all his necessi- 
ties. I too had occasionally met Judge Gaston in 
the 'great field of life, and in speaking of him, in part 



11 

I speak what I do know. I have seen him at the 
Bar — on the Bench— in our State Legislature, and 
in the social circle; and it is no disparagement to 
others to say, that in none of those various depart- 
ments have I met his superior- He was an able and 
eloquent advocate — a sagacious and learned judge — 
a most discreet and intelligent legislator — a ripe 
scholar — charming and brilliant in his powers of con- 
versation, in which wisdom and learning were sea- 
soned with wit and anecdote. His benevolence even 
attracted children around him, and condescended to 
enter into their childish griefs, pleasures, and busi- 
ness. He was courteous to every one, although a 
dillidence conspicuous in every thing he did. gave him 
often to the stranger an appearance of distant and 
haughty reserve. He was in short an ornament to 
pur profession — the admiration and model of all its 
members. But his star has set in the dark valley o£ 
the shadow of Death; and we have met to speak 
mournfully our gratitude for its past glory — to admire 
its light yet lingering in the horizon, and to breathe 
out our hopes, that it will rise again to shine in the 
firmament forever and forever. 

The dead cannot be benefited by any thing done 
in their commemoration, but survivors may gather 
from the grave most useful treasures, as thev bend o- 
ver it in sorrow for a decaying tenant. A judicious 
dispensation of praise, even to the living, is often em- 
inently useful, not so much to the subject of that 
praise as to those who bestow and those who hear it. 
I believe no civilized people under the sun is so spar- 



1° 

ing of praise, either to the dead or to the living," as 
the people of North Carolina. We are so accustom- 
ed to see every one around us quietly and steadily 
walking in the path of duty, according to his ability; 
and our minds are so generally embued with the Gos- 
pel truth, that after all, the most Highly gifted and 
virtuous are but unprofitable servants, that real merit 
excites in us no surprize; and there is a vein of home- 
ly wisdom running through our scattered population, 
which, in connexion with its sparseness, forbids the 
excitement by which intellectual mountebanks cheat 
in the semblance of gold and precious stones with the 
tinsel glitter of light and shallow accomplishments 
coupled with bold assumption and confident preten- 
sion. Still, praise judiciously bestowed, is like money 
well laid out — while it enriches others, it benefits our- 
selves, and gives a wholesome excitement to the in- 
tercourse of life. To a State, her sons are her jew- 
els, even more emphatically than to the Roman ma- 
tron. The value of any thing is more a matter of es- 
timation than of fact; and this estimation is not the o- 
pinion of one or two persons, but the general opinion 
of the community. Much the greater part of every 
community forms its opinion upon the decisions of o- 
thers, whose means of judging are better, or supposed 
to be better, than its own; and seldom is the judg- 
ment of each individual brought to bear upon a sub- 
ject. Hence, when the people of South Carolina or 
Virginia, or of any other State, laud and magnify 
some favorite citizen, echo brings back the peal from 
other States, and voices a thousand and ten thousand 



13 

times compounded, fill the welkin with an irresistible 
volume of approbation. And when Virgil is praised 
who does not think of Mantua! And if any city 
could have established an undisputed claim to have 
been the birth-place of Homer, would she not have 
been the first among the cities of Greece! When a 
State, then, lauds one of her own children, she but 
pours upon him a flood of glory to be reflected back 
upon herself in more dazzling splendor, and her home- 
ly rocks and her lonely rivers glitter and shine in the 
brightness of his fame — and men are attracted by the 
blaze, gather around it, and, rejoicing in its brilliancy, 
that State becomes great and populous. What does 
not Virginia owe. in her conspicuous and long con- 
tinued position in this Union, to the fame of Wash- 
ington, and Jefferson, and Henry, and Madison, and 
a host of others on whom she had cast the prismatic 
brightness of her own praises? And South Carolina, 
by wresting the trumpet from Fame herself, and 
blowing with unceasing blasts the name of some fa- 
vored son, has come to be justly honored as the mo- 
ther of great men. But where are the jewels of our 
own State? Has she none? And were there never 
any to whom and from whom she might give and re- 
ceive this glorious lustre? Alas! although her jewels 
have been many, she has seldom or never turned up- 
on them the full light of her countenance: and hence, 
although we who know her well, value her as she 
deserves, few and faint are those rays of reflected 
glory that might attract the eye of the stranger, and 
win him to admire and exalt her. We have been 



11 

taunted with supineness, with being wrapt in tlio sha- 
dow of an intellectual night, and that for almost an age 
only the kindling genius of Gaston has shone like a 
solitary star amid the gloom to mark our existence 
among the States. Men have gazed upon the bright- 
ness of this star, and like the Magi of old, attracted 
therehj', have been led to inquire of the distant and. 
unknown country on which it rose — and William 
Gaston has for years past been the very impersona- 
tion of North Carolina, and few, very few, have spo- 
ken of the one without thinking of the other. But as 
we have said, that star is now set; and other eyes be- 
side our own have missed it from our sky. The 
death of Judge Gaston has been mournfully noted m 
many portions of the Union, and North Carolina hath 
been honored in regrets for her son. It is not only 
just, but expedient, that we too should mourn him, 
and in performing this pious duty to the dead, learn 
something of what is due to the living — and by a fu- 
ture more liberal and just estimation of our own in- 
tellectual wealth, assume our rightful position among 
the sister States. Praises, too, have in them another 
value. To praise discreetly we must contemplate 
the object of our praise; thus will we learn in part to 
copy what we look upon and admire — and hence 
perhaps the Benevolent Author of our Holy Religion 
has made the praises of the Almighty so large a por- 
tion of a Christian's duty. It were blasphemy to say, 
that in contemplating the object of the present eulogy 
we should find a faultless model for imitation. But 
of his faults, if any, (and doubtless he had some,) it is 



15 

not mine to speak* Let them be hidden from view 
amid his clustering virtues, unci be buried forever with 
his ashes in his grave. But let his virtues live after 
him, and, through them, let him speak to us in paren- 
tal admonition and encouragement. 

The late William Gaston was born at Newbern, 
North Carolina, on the 19th day of September 1778, 
amid the heat and furv of our Revolutionary strug- 
gle, and must of course on the daj of his death have 
been one of the verv lew whose life reached back to 
that interesting period. His father, Dr. Alexander 
Gaston, was a native of a town in the North of Ire- 
land, descended from French ancestors, who had es- 
caped from the persecutions let loose upon the Hu- 
guenots, by the revocation of the famous edict of Nantz. 
He was the younger brother of the Rev. Hugh Gas- 
ton, who was a Protestant Divine of much distinction, 
and the author of a Concordance to the Scriptures, a 
work of high authority among Christians. Dr. Gas- 
ton having before the Revolution become a resident 
of North Carolina, was no idle spectator of the do- 
mestic strife there waged between the friends of the 
old form of government and the advocates of the new, 
but took sides under the bias so common among his 
countrymen of Ireland, and was a Whig of 1776, not 
only in word but in deed, and ultimately fell a sacri- 
fice to the fury of the Tory party, under circumstan- 
ces most remarkable for holy and heroic devotion on 
one hand, and of fiendish ferocity on the other. Judge 
Gaston's mother, Margaret Sharpe, had been married 
to his father in Ma.v 1775, and more than six years of 



16 

domestic peace bad passed over them, marred to be 
sure by the troubles of the times and the early death 
of their first son by some ordinary disease. But 
the subject of our remarks and a little girl had been 
successively sent by Providence to occupy their pa- 
rental affections and strengthen the bond of their u- 
nion; and nothing seemed wanting but a more settled 
condition of their country, to afford them a due share 
of earthly happiness. Little William had nearly at- 
tained his third year, and it could not have escaped 
the keen discernment of parents that he was a child 
of promise. Their hopes gathered around him, and 
endeared them more and more to each other. But 
Newbern, which, lying at the junction of two noble 
streams, the Neuse and Trent, and thus almost sur- 
rounded by water, and which had been in a good de- 
gree exempt from those scenes of blood and horror 
so common in other parts of the country, was on the 
20th of August, 1781, suddenly invaded by a party of 
British and Tories, and, unprepared for defence, eve- 
ry male capable of bearing arms, who was unwilling 
to say "God save King George," had no safety but in 
flight. Dr. Gaston fled, and betaking himself with o- 
then* to a flat, or scow, endeavored to cross the Trent 
River, there nearly a mile in width, and seek an asy- 
lum on the other side. His fond wife, perceiving 
that his steps were marked by the foe, and that he 
was pursued with a murderous purpose, rushed to his 
rescue. Using the proper weapons of her sex, she 
threw herself upon her knees before his pursuers, and 
with tears and sighs entreated for his life. But in his 



■ 

17 

slow moving vessel the gallant Doctor stood an in- 
viting mark for loyal vengeance, and over the very 
shoulders of his wife a hard-hearted ruffian dis- 
charged the shot which terminated his existence. 

"She came — 'twas but to add to slaughter," 
His heart's best blood is on the water! 

Thus perished the father of William Gaston, an 
honored sacrifice on the altar of his adopted coun- 
try: and thus was a horrible blight brought upon the 
young and gentle heart of his mother. She became 
a widow indeed, and the same explosion by which 
her husband was slain, shattered forever the myste- 
rious texture of her own nervous system. She was 
an invalid for life, and devoted the remainder of her 
days to her God, to rearing her orphans, and teach- 
ing them to tread the paths of virtue and religion. 
It was to the lessons she taught, that her gifted son 
mainlv attributed his success and usefulness in after 
life. She was represented by him to have been "a- 
inorig the noblest of created beings." With feelings 
exceedingly strong, a sensibility he never saw ex- 
ceeded — no emotion, no passion, could ever induce 
her to swerve on any occasion from what she believed 
to be the course of duty. "Whatever there may be 
of good in me," he said, "I attribute it to her." And 
it is worthy of remark, that history teems with in- 
stances in which the most conspicuous men of the 
time have owed their training to the anxious and 
untiring care of a widowed mother. The virtues 
and excellencies of his mother, was a theme of which 
the late Mr. Gaston seemed never to tire, and while 



18 

it proves the sterling qualities of that exemplary pa- 
rent, it strongly marks the virtuous susceptibilities of 
the heart of her son. How many mothers devote the 
energies of their lives to the training of their sons! 
And yet how seldom is their labor of love repaid with 
gratitude! To him, however, the crowning gratifica- 
tion of having achieved the first honors of his Alma ' 
Mater, was laying them at the feet of his mother and 
feeling conscious of the maternal pride he had roused 
in her bosom. But a mother could only lay the deep 
and strong foundations on which others must build: 
yet on the depth and strength of those foundations 
mainly depended the whole future worth of the fabric. 
Mr. Gaston left his mother's immediate care at an 
early age, and acquired the rudiments of a fine edu- 
cation under the most approved private instructers of 
the time. In the Fall of 1791, being only about thir- 
teen years of age, he was sent to the College of 
Georgetown, in the District of Columbia. This insti- 
tution was then, like himself, in its infancy, and like 
him has improved its advantages until it has achieved 
success and a high reputation. And how far they 
may have mutually cheered onward and supported 
each other in the road to fame, I am unable to sav. 
There the religious principles he had inherited from 
his mother, who was an English Roman Catholic, 
were strengthened and fully developed. And while 
I would not compromit the sacred Protestant opinions^ 
in which so manv of us have been educated, and as I 
trust in connexion with the most cheering of eternal 
hopes, I would not take advantage of the occasion to 



. 19 

disparage the Roman Catholic faith — for if that an- 
cient tree had always borne such fruit as it did in the 
person of William Gaston, few would be found to 
question its claim to be considered the true Church 
of God. By the Spring of 1793, the bleak winds of 
the Potomac Valley had so affected his constitution, 
as to excite serious fears that Consumption, that sub- 
tle and common enemy of genius, had marked him 
for one of its victims. Mr. Gaston was therefore ad- 
vised to return to the benignant climate of the Old 
North State. Here the air, freighted with the bal- 
samic influence of her pines, mingled with the fra- 
grance of the grape, the jessamine, and the wild crab, 
soon restored health to his luno-.s and vioor to his con- 
stitution. With renewed energy he recommenced 
his academical studies, under the Rev'd Thomas P. 
Irving, a man of much distinction in that most ardu- 
ous and generally most thankless office, of training 
the youthful mind. In the Autumn of 1794 he en- 
tered the Junior Class at Princeton College, and was 
soon marked as its leader, which distinguished posi- 
tion he maintained during his course. In 1796 he was 
graduated, when, to use his own language, "it was 
one of the proudest moments of my life when I was 
enabled to write to my mother, that I had obtained 
the first honor of the class." Soon after his return 
from Princeton, he commenced the study of the Law, 
in his native town, under the direction of Francis 
Xavier Martin, Esquire, then a successful practising 
lawyer in that region of country, but for many years 
past, and now at a very advanced period of life, a 



2e 

• 

Judge of the Supreme Court of Louisiana. In en- 
tering upon the study of the law, Mr. Gaston sacri- 
ficed a purpose which he had somewhat cherished, 
of adopting the military profession — cherished per- 
haps from an almost instinctive and half defined im- 
pulse, to be the avenger of his father's blood, and of 
his mother's blighted hopes. In 1798 he commenced 
the professional career, afterwards so brilliant and so 
long continued. And here, my younger professional 
brethren, let us mark the friendly light which his ex- 
ample casts upon the untrodden path that lies before 
you. He did not set out with the mere sordid pur- 
pose of making money — "of wringing from the hard 
hands of peasants their vile trash by any indirection" 
— by the mere exhibition of his parchment and a 
showy display of light and superficial acquirements, 
in the absence of every thing justly entitling him to 
their confidence and qualifying him to conduct their 
affairs. Even as a lawyer, he did not consider him- 
self a mere human animal, destined to get through 
life in the appropriation to himself of as large a share 
as possible of its sensual delights and pecuniary ad- 
vantages, but as a moral and intellectual being, des- 
tined to live an eternal life, of which his present state 
was a beginning — inconsiderable in itself it is true, 
but pregnant with immense results for the future; — 
that he owed to himself and to his family to labor not 
merely for the bread that perisheth even in his pro- 
fession, but for a fame that might live after him, and 
be to them a richer inheritance than the charter of 
an Earldom; — that he owed it to the profession he had 



21 

adopted, as far as in him lay to render it not a mere 
system of trick and artifice, where the cunning and 
least scrupulous should reap the largest profits — but 
a noble and ennobling science, embracing those eter- 
nal principles of right and wrong; those great truths, 
moral and metaphysical, of which the Almighty was 
himself the Author, and which it had been the busi- 
ness of the great and good through all ages to search 
out and illustrate — to remember that it was a profes- 
sion not destined to perish with himself, but that, in 
countless succession, others without number were to 
follow him, whose happiness, usefulness, and moral 
dignity, would materially depend upon the footmarks 
he might leave in the road before them; — that he 
owed it to his clients, whose confidence he sought, 
and on whose patronage he waited, not to bring to 
their service a mere smattering in his profession, and 
an impudent confidence that success might crown per- 
chance his blundering efforts; but by patient industry 
to acquire a skill by which he might confidently warn 
them when they were wrong, and achieve for them, 
with the utmost certainty that belongs to any thins 
human, success when they were right; — that he owed 
it to his country, by all in his power to render her 
administration of justice pure, dignified, and enlight- 
ened, liberal and effective. To these, noble ends he 
directed the energies of his vigorous mind with un- 
wearied application. To accomplish them, he did 
not suppose that the Temple of the Law must be a 
gothic edifice, consisting of stifl mathematical figures 
and marked with black letter inscriptions — but that 



22 



all the arts and sciences should be invoked to give it 
strength and beauty. That law should be forever 
divorced from Eloquence and Poetry, and that law- 
yers should be ashamed to speak well lest it might be 
supposed they were incapable of thought — were such 
barbarian fancies as dwelt uot in his brain; but he 
iustlv deemed, that truth loses nothing from being 
gracefully set forth, and that although in a state of 
nature we may not be shocked at the sight of naked 
men, yet in a civilized community it is not beneath 
the dignity of the most intelligent to arrav himself 
with taste and even with elegance; — that if men have 
heads they have hearts also; and that under all cir- 
cumstances each is entitled to be regarded as one of 
the constituents of the intellectual man. Hence, while 
he was content that Coke and his black gowned as- 
sociates might lay the foundations and build up the 
walls of his edifice, he desired that Chatham, and 
Burke, and Sheridan, and Tope, and Diwden, and 
Johnson, and Shakspeare, and others such, should 
carve its cornices, its columns, and pilasters; and that 
the wild flowers of Poetry, from every clime, should 
be planted around to beautify, to freshen its atmo- 
sphere, and fill it with fragrance. And he was un- 
willing that even Music should be expelled from its 
sacred recesses, but chose rather that they should 
echo every pleasant sound, from the solemn organ, to 
the light song of the Troubadour. An American law- 
yer surely is not meant to be a mere black letter in- 
dex — but a noble spacious cabinet of intelligence, 
where every one may seek for and find something to 



2-3 



his taste. Nor shall he be a licensed pickpocket, to 
appropriate the money of every thoughtless, idle, or 
passionate mortal he may meet, by virtue of his parch- 
ment from the Supreme Court, without possessing the 
qualities of which that parchment testifies — but labor- 
ing for the public with his might and main, and elab- 
orating and combiuing for the common good, theolo- 
gy, metaphysics, mechanics, eloquence, poetry, and 
every thing else that can delight and ennoble the hu- 
man understanding, he is not unjustly an unstinted pen- 
sioner upon public contribution. So thought Mr. 
Gaston; and while he devoted himself with untiring 
zeal to the sterner labors of his profession, his spare 
moments were cheered and improved with the Poe- 
try of Queen Anne's age, (the British Augustan age, 
as it has been called,) and other like intellectual re- 
pasts; and even while riding to his Courts, has the in- 
tellectual man, in the pursuit of its own enjoyments 
in the pages of Scott and others, so far forgotten the 
physical, as to expose it to numberless and sometimes 
serious hazards. He was also a model to us all in 
the happy control of his temper, by which, through 
the long course of his practice, he avoided those pain- 
ful professional discords, which so many of us have 
cause with shame to remember, even in our own short 
experience. 

Legislation is in our country so intimately connect- 
ed with the administration of law, and a knowledge 
of existing laws is so very necessary in altering them 
or making new ones, that it is not wonderful so many 
of our profession constitute portions of our Legislative 



bodies. Accordingly, Mr. Gaston was often a mem- 
ber of our State Legislature, and first in 1800, as a 
member of our State Senate. In 1308, Mr. Gaston 
was chosen from the District in which he resided, an 
Elector for President and Vice President of the Unit- 
ed States. In 1813 he took his seat in Congress, by 
the election of his District, and acted with the Fede- 
ral party for the four years he continued in Congress, 
as indeed he did during his life. This period, em- 
bracing the greater part of the last War with Great 
Britain, was one of intense interest, and afforded fine 
opportunities for talent on either side to display itself; 
and accordingly, though but a young man, with but a 
limited term of service, Mr. Gaston greatly distin- 
guished himself even among the great spirits of that 
time, and the enduring reputation that he left behind 
him, and that still lingers in the Halls of the National 
Legislature, declares him a man of no common pow- 
ers. His speeches upon the Loan Bill and the Pre- 
vious Question, advantageously shewed forth those 
abilities which carried him triumphantly through so 
many trials. The peculiar cast of his political opin- 
ions must be spoken of by me in the same measured 
and cautious terms in which I have spoken of his re- 
ligious. Upon these subjects it is perhaps ray mis- 
fortune to have differed with him. I cannot there- 
fore applaud, and I will not condemn. On both, his 
sentiments were sincerely and conscientiously enter- 
tained, and were alvvavs maintained and defended 
with wonderful- ability. But his temper was too 
kind and amiable for him willingly to engage in any 



25 

disputation to which a sense of duty (to which he al- 
ways yielded) did not impel. So benevolent and so- 
cial was his disposition, that no jarring chord was ev- 
er struck by him in the company of an} T for whom he 
felt respect; and with great adroitness would he give 
a playful and humorous turn to conversation, when 
disputes were likely to arise between others. Claim- 
ino- for himself the right to think for himself, he cheer- 
fully accorded to others the same privilege. Among 
the trophies of Mr. Gaston in our State Legislature, 
may be reckoned the act of 1808, regulating the de- 
scent of real estate, the act of 1818, establishing our 
Supreme Court upon its present system; and able 
speeches upon subjects innumerable. He might have 
had a seat upon the Supreme Court Bench upon its 
first organization, but by his own wish, as I think, his 
name was not openly proposed, and his distinguished 
relative, the late Chief Justice Taylor, the late Chief 
Justice Henderson, and the late Judge Hall, consti- 
tuted the first Supreme Court Bench, remarkable a- 
hke for judicial learning and integrity. It is hardly 
a digression to say, that between himself and Chief 
Justice Taylor, who married his sister, (that other or- 
phan of the bloody Trent,) a most unwavering and 
devoted friendship existed during many of the later 
years of the former, in which was strikingly illustrat- 
ed the strong attachment with which Mr. Gaston's 
heart was wont to fasten on its object. After Judge 
Taylor ascended the Supreme Court Bench, Mr. 
Gaston pursued his profession with great zeal and 
brilliant ^uccees, and even after the death of Judge 

4. 



Taylor, until 1833, when the death of Chief Justice 
Henderson opened a vacancy, which, yielding to the 
solicitations of his friends, he consented to fill. The 
deference felt for his fame and talents by those who 
had preceded him on the Supreme Court Bench, and 
with whom he had become associated, would have 
accorded to him the place of Chief Justice. But his 
modesty and sense of expediency induced him to de- 
cline — thinking it better to establish the precedent 
that seniority in commission should confer that high 
distinction, than that a way should be opened for e- 
lectioneering and intrigue, for jealousy and disap- 
pointment. Soon after his attainment of a seat upon 
the Bench of the Supreme Court of his native State, 
a Convention assembled to amend her Constitution. 
Of this Convention his native County elected him a 
member. Here he was as usual "the observed of all 
observers" — the master spirit of that great and distin- 
guished body. His identification with the State was 
thus completed. By a remarkable coincidence his 
exertions had mainly prevented the removal of the 
Seat of Government from Raleigh, and contributed 
to fix it there for ages to come, by the enduring and 
magnificent pile of native granite which has been e- 
rected into the State House. So that in times to 
come, if a visiter to the State shall seek the Halls of 
her Capitol, his very tread will wake up in echo the 
name of William Gaston. 11* he look into her organic 
law, he will find it impressed with the genius of Wil- 
liam Gaston. If he turn to her legislative records, 
there also will he read the name of William Gaston. 



•27 



If he search among her judicial lore, its pages will 
bear the name of William Gaston. In his attainment 
of a seat upon the Supreme Court Bench, the inter- 
ests of the public and those of Judge Gaston coinci 
ded. All admitted him without a rival in fitness for 
that branch of public service, considering his moral, 
intellectual, and physical qualifications. His pecunia- 
ry condition was now such as to render large profes- 
sional receipts no longer necessary to him, and to 
meet his wants, a moderate salary was all that would 
be required in addition to the income of his estate. 
His advancing age made rest needful to him; — and 
the approach of eternity demanded all advantages for 
preparation to meet it. • All these considerations were 
happily met in the office he now filled. The salary 
of the office was a handsome one — and the calm and 
passionless discharge of his judicial duties gave rest 
to his body, and health to his soul, as was most hap- 
pily expressed by himself in his very last letter to his 
eldest daughter. "To administer Justice," said he, 
"in the last resort — to expound and apply the laws 
for the advancement of right and the suppression of 
wrong, is an ennobling and indeed a holy office; and 
the exercise of its functions, while it raises my mind 
above the mists of Earth-born cares and passions, into 
a pure and serene atmosphere, always seems to im- 
part fresh vigor to my understanding, and a better 
temper to my whole soul." Willi such views and 
sentiments, and from such a position, it is no wonder 
that his exit more resembled a translation than a death 
— and that the space between his active usefulness a- 



28 

mono- men, and bis entrance upon the more extensive 
and untold duties of another world, should have been 
contracted to a span. That his bright career was 
thus suddenly ended, has already been told. He died 
about 8 o'clock on the evening of the 23d day of 
January 1844. 

Such are some of the things that have been done 
bv one of our profession to challenge our admiration 
and excite us to emulate them. The story is before 
us, and each must draw for himself the appropriate 
moral. We have thus seen Mr. Gaston, since we left 
him lisping his mother's name in infancy, and still re- 
peating it in childhood and youth, chiefly as a public 
man: — and are led to admire him as we would some 
bright particular star whose glory was distant and un- 
attainable to us. But it is in the social circle, and by 
the domestic hearth, that the hearts of those who have 
seen him there, melt in sympathy and gush out with 
affection towards him. In society he partook with a 
cheerful heart (subordinate at all times to the regula- 
tions of his Church) of whatever delighted other men. 
And while he seldom turned his back upon the fes- 
tive board, he gave no countenance to intemperance 
or excess. His own table was always hospitably and 
liberally, but unostentatiously spread, and where he 
was present the intellect was ever more treated than 
the palate. The understanding and the imagination 
was each allowed its portion; and an appropriate and 
well told anecdote was never wanting to amuse and 
illustrate the topic of conversation. The filial is the 
first domestic relationship in which Providence places 



29 

us, and the manner in which its duties are discharged 
is generally a sure indication of how those which fol- 
low will be filled. And accordingly, as Judge Gaston 
was a most exemplary son, he proved in after life a 
kind brother, a most devoted, faithful, and affection- 
ate husband, an indulgent, vet wise and conscientious 
Parent. He was thrice married, but survived by 
many years the last of his wives. His sister } 7 et lives; 
and several children, who have w r ell repaid his pa- 
rental care, were left to mingle their voices with the 
wailinos which followed him to the tomb, and to stand 
with pride beneath the overshadowing greatness of 
his name — a name that descends not with his bodv 
to the Earth, nor passes to the Heavens with his as- 
cending spirit; but remains behind like the odour of 
departed flowers — marking forever the place where 
he has been.